When it comes to bravery, very few can compare to firefighters. These are men and women who face fiery infernos, putting their very lives on the line, for their community.
As much as firefighters do for the community, it seems not all is well within the local fire department. Since October 2, both Newcastle and Osizweni Fire Stations have been running on skeleton staff.
Exactly how bad is the situation regarding the local fire stations?
Head of Communications at Newcastle Municipality, Dr Dumisani Thabethe, explains there are two firefighters on duty per shift at Newcastle, and two firefighters on duty per shift in Osizweni.
“We also have two staff members on standby for Newcastle and two staff members on standby for Osizweni per shift.”
With two firefighters working per shift, how many firefighters does the Newcastle Municipality employ?
Dr Thabethe explains the municipality employs 38 operational firefighters. This excludes dayshift staff such as control room operators and fire safety staff.
Currently, 24 firefighters have been suspended from their duties. Despite there being a shortage of staff, Dr Thabethe says he cannot confirm when the suspended firefighters will resume their duties, as the necessary disciplinary procedures need to be followed.
According to national standards, how many firefighters must the Newcastle Municipality employ?
Dr Thabethe admits the total number of staff on the current organogram/structure is 124. The operational firefighters on the organogram/structure are 90.
“In terms of the South African National Standard, SANS 10090:2003, a Risk Category A (Newcastle) should have a minimum staffing level of five per fire engine; and for a Risk Category B (Madadeni and Osizweni) should have a minimum staffing level of four per fire engine respectively.”
With both Newcastle and Osizweni Fire Stations running with less staffing than that of the national standard, how is the shortage of staff affecting the community?
Dr Thabethe remains optimistic, despite the seriousness of the situation. “We are fortunate the shortage of staff came during the summer season, where we do not respond to as many incidents as compared to the winter season. Thus far, we were able to attend all incidents timeously, and therefore it has not affected the community yet.”
However, what plans do the Newcastle Municipality have in place in case of an emergency, where a full complement of firefighters is required?
“If a large incident should occur, then all on-duty staff and standby staff will respond. If the need arises, then the off-duty staff and Traffic Officers will be called to assist. We can also request assistance from Arcelor Mittal and the surrounding towns in Amajuba District,” Dr Thabethe claims.
Furthermore, how does the shortage of staffing affect the safety of the firefighters currently employed?
Dr Thabethe admits it is a concern, as it’s not ideal for two firefighters to respond to an incident. However, he says if they do face a challenge, they can call for backup from the other fire stations or activate the standby staff.
However, as the holiday season approaches and firefighters are bracing themselves for the challenges that come with it, what are your thoughts on the shortage of staff?
Do you feel that two firefighters per shift are enough to cater for Newcastle, Madadeni and Osizweni? Do you believe that this shortage of staff can jeopardise the safety of the community and the firefighters on duty?
Share your views and thoughts with us in the comment section below.